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March is probably best known for having the First Day of Spring and Saint Patrick’s Day.
Okay, I’m showing my bias, but I suggest that one of the most important events in our nation’s Military History in mid-March is the founding of my alma mater:
On 16 Mar 1802, the US Military Academy–the first military school in the US–was founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York, the US Military Academy is often simply known as West Point.
Located on the high west bank of New York’s Hudson River, West Point was the site of a Revolutionary-era fort built to protect the Hudson River Valley from British attack. In 1780, Patriot General Benedict Arnold, the commander of the fort, agreed to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for 6,000 pounds. However, the plot was uncovered before it fell into British hands, and the traitor Arnold fled to the British for protection.
Ten years after the establishment of the US Military Academy in 1802, the growing threat of another war with Great Britain resulted in congressional action to expand the academy’s facilities and increase the West Point corps. Beginning in 1817, the US Military Academy was reorganized by superintendent Sylvanus Thayer–later known as the “father of West Point”–and the school became one of the nation’s finest sources of civil engineers. During the Mexican-American War, West Point graduates filled the leading ranks of the victorious US forces, and with the outbreak of the Civil War former West Point classmates regretfully lined up against one another in the defense of their native states.
In 1870, the first African-American cadet was admitted into the US Military Academy, and in 1976, the first female cadets. The academy has an enrollment of over 4,000 students.
Our nation’s history does have some other interesting things that happened in the later part of March:
17 May – St Patrick’s Day
On 19 Mar 2003, the US, along with coalition forces primarily from the United Kingdom, initiated war on Iraq. Just after explosions began to rock Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, President George W. Bush announced in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” President Bush and his advisors built much of their case for war on the idea that Iraq, under dictator Saddam Hussein, possessed or was in the process of building weapons of mass destruction—which was reasonable as Saddam had used WMD several times in the previous decade.
Hostilities began about 90 minutes after the US-imposed deadline for Saddam Hussein to leave Iraq or face war passed. The first targets, which Bush said were “of military importance,” were hit with Tomahawk cruise missiles from fighter-bombers and warships stationed in the Persian Gulf. In response to the attacks, Republic of Iraq radio in Baghdad announced, “the evil ones, the enemies of God, the homeland and humanity, have committed the stupidity of aggression against our homeland and people.”
Though Saddam Hussein had declared in early March 2003 that, “it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression,” he went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape. Coalition forces were able to topple his regime and capture Iraq’s major cities in just three weeks, sustaining few casualties. President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on 1 May 2003. Despite the defeat of conventional military forces in Iraq, an insurgency has continued an intense guerrilla war in the nation in the years since military victory was announced, resulting in thousands of coalition military, insurgent and civilian deaths.
After an intense manhunt, US soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.” Hussein was arrested and began trial for crimes against his people, including mass killings, in October 2005.
In June 2004, the provisional government in place since soon after Saddam’s ouster transferred power to the Iraqi Interim Government. In January 2005, the Iraqi people elected a 275-member Iraqi National Assembly. A new constitution for the country was ratified that October. On November 6, 2006, Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. After an unsuccessful appeal, he was executed on December 30, 2006.
20 Mar – 1st day of spring
23 Mar 1775, during a speech before the second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry responds to the increasingly oppressive British rule over the American colonies by declaring, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Following the signing of the American Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, Patrick Henry was appointed governor of Virginia by the Continental Congress.
The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment on November 1, 1765, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1765.
Most colonists quietly accepted British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, which granted the East India Company a monopoly on the American tea trade. Viewed as another example of taxation without representation, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 10,000 pounds dumped into Boston harbor. Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in the following year. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.
With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first volleys of the American Revolutionary War were fired.
On 24 Mar 1958 – Elvis Presley was inducted into the army. Although he had been drafted the previous December, the army granted him a deferral so he could finish shooting his film, King Creole. He was a good soldier and earned a promotion to sergeant before being discharged.
*”What do you get when you take a shortcut through a strawberry patch? You get a strawberry shortcut!”
*Pasteurize: too far to see anything
*I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.
The Frontlines of Freedom Newsletter is published twice monthly; the dates of publication each month depend on the events and history of that month.